There is No Albuquerque
I was born with three physical defects, noted in my chart, noted also in the “Baby’s First Year” keepsake book my mother had received as a shower gift. She wrote down the date and time of birth, my weight and length, and this, the one and only entry:
Crossed, pale eyes, a hole in the neck, three bumps on the forehead of unknown etiology and without apparent pathology. Named her Betsy.
My kindergarten photograph: I’m wearing thick glasses. The hole in my neck is now only a small indentation. The bumps on my forehead have grown into horns, clearly visible through my bangs, like three raised fists.
Soon after that photo was taken, my parents died in an elevator crash, and I was placed in the care of a distant uncle, a clown named Buddy. He gave me the name “Dinosaur Girl,” and put me to work as a sideshow freak. I was kept in a pen and tethered to a post with a rope around my neck. Pregnant women and the weak of heart were warned to steer clear, but for twenty-five cents anybody else could stand in line to pat my head and stroke my horns.
Thanks to a series of online courses, I’ve secured employment as an indexer and an abstractor for the psychological association in a building downtown. I work in a cubicle surrounded by stacks of books. My coworkers do not talk to me. My boss, Mr. Kenton, however, talks to me all the time. He likes hearing about my freak show days.
I tell him:
When I was little, my mother used to stand me before the mirror every morning and make me say: I am beautiful. After she died, I kept doing it for a while until Buddy told me to stop. After he married the Tattooed Lady, they soon lost interest in me, and I was sent to a foster home. My foster parents thought I was retarded. They told everyone who would listen that they saved me from a dumpster.
Mr. Kenton appears to love all of humanity. It is his only flaw. Mr. Kenton is dashing. The kind of man who would look good in a hat. I wear a bulletproof vest under a very large shirt. I resemble a horned turtle. But I am safe.
The itching drives me crazy. Sometimes I go into the break room and scratch the spaces between my horns with a pair of tongs. The same tongs we use to pull pizzas from the toaster oven. Do not tell anyone.
The plastic surgeon says if he were to remove the horns I’d go blind.
Mr. Kenton calls a stand-up meeting in the middle of the day. This is unprecedented. He announces that he has taken a position in Albuquerque and is leaving in two weeks. Some of the women start to sob. Janice goes right up to him and hugs him with everyone watching.
Many animals go through a season of molting, shedding their feathers, fur, shells. Some even lose their horns. When will be my season?
On some particularly fine days, if the lines had been long, Buddy would let me sit on a stool off-stage when he performed at night under the Big Top and let me eat all the Sno-Cones I wanted.
Never once do Mr. Kenton’s eyes flick up to the bumps on my forehead. That takes some restraint, and I admire him for it.
I tell him:
Once a farmer from the adjoining county came to the fair and paid his quarter to pet my horns. He’d waited in the hot sun for a long time, eventually removing his shirt and tying it around his neck to staunch the sweat. When his turn came, he approached me and drew a gun from his pocket and aimed it at my chest, crying, Beast! Beast! One of the carnies threw himself at the farmer, who dropped the gun. After he recovered his breath and his senses, the farmer put his shirt back on and walked away. No charges were filed.
As soon as one is upright, the soft front of the body is exposed and vulnerable. One must brace oneself for onslaught.
I had rushed out one morning to get Mr. Kenton breakfast. He’d worked through the night and sat slumped in his desk. Crossing the street, I dropped the Styrofoam container and it sprung open. Some of the food spilled on the pavement, and I scooped it up with my bare hands before the light changed.
When he opened the container and stuck his plastic fork into the omelet, I could no longer keep it in. Don’t eat it! I dropped it on the street!
Mr. Kenton examined the omelet and said, It looks okay to me. He ate every last bite.
There is no one like Mr. Kenton.
I like to plan adventures that involve wearing a helmet large enough to accommodate my horns. For instance, I have a scuba diving lesson next week. I have learned to operate a Jet Ski. And I am planning a sky diving adventure surprise with Mr. Kenton.
When Janice comes into the office still wearing her bike shorts and her bike helmet, I say, Yeah! And raise my hand for a high five as she walks past. She must not see because she doesn’t high five me back.
Buddy the Clown emails me sometimes. He writes, Dear Dinosaur Girl, (haha). He says clowning is a young man’s game. Some freaks lost their livelihoods when society turned its nose up on the shows. I was only trying to help, he says. He wants me to know I can visit him anytime.
Mr. Kenton and I will leap simultaneously from the plane. We will hold each other’s hands as we plummet. Our parachutes will bloom like jellyfish, and we will hush and slow, falling softly to Earth. There is no Albuquerque.
And I am beautiful.
This story was first published in “Rift,” co-authored with Robert Vaughan (Unknown Press, 2015).
Kathy Fish’s stories have been published or are forthcoming in Yemassee Journal, Guernica, Indiana Review, and others. She is the author of four short fiction collections and teaches at the Mile High MFA at Regis University.